Former inmate now deacon at Tulsa, Oakridge
As Terry Fisher pushed the lawn mower through the tall grass at the home of a widow, wearing his bright orange shirt embroidered with “DOC,” one might have thought he was a prisoner from the Department of Corrections.
And just a few years earlier, that would have been the case. But today, Fisher’s shirt emblazoned with “DOC” stands for Disciple of Christ.
Fisher, a rough, tough dude, who wasn’t scared of anyone, was a powerful prison presence as he served 14 years of a 20-year sentence for writing hot checks and for burglary.
A native of Tulsa, Fisher joined the military when he graduated from Webster High School, and served four years as a Navy Seal. But during his mid-30s, he started running with the wrong crowd. He had been drinking alcohol since he was 12, but now he was into drugs, and robbing people to support his habit.
“I started racing stock cars, and stopped at the bars on the way home,” Fisher said.
While awaiting trial, Fisher escaped from the Creek County Jail, and because of prior felony charges, for which he was on probation, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Over a period of 14 years, he served in five state facilities.
But prison might have been the best thing that ever happened to Fisher. It was there that he found Jesus.
While at James Crabtree in Helena, he was allowed to participate in a three-day weekend “short course in Christianity” presented by Kairos Prison Ministries, an interdenominational ministry to incarcerated men and women.
“These volunteers came in and fed us physically and spiritually,” Fisher said. “There were about 70 prisoners involved, and they put us into groups.”
Fisher said his group had a black man in it, and he refused to sit with him.
“We went from the first meeting to chow hall, and I had to eat with my group in front of the whole yard,” Fisher said. “At first I refused, then decided I had never been scared of anyone, so why should I be now.”
Fisher said when he started interacting with this black man, he found they had a lot in common. That was the first step in softening Fisher’s heart.
“They started talking about being adopted into God’s family, and I saw this black man as a part of the family of God,” Fisher recalled. “I almost missed a blessing over something so idiotic.”
Placemats made by children with the words “I’m praying for you,” and a sack full of letters to the prisoners completed the weekend.
“This was something so much more powerful than the world I was operating in,” Fisher said. “I no longer wanted to rob people (even in prison, Fisher’s ways of taking advantage of people had not changed). I had rationalized it was OK to rob other prisoners, but now I knew the only way to help them was to pray for them.”
Once the Lord changed Fisher’s heart, he knew he had to be a part of changing other lives. He began witnessing to other prisoners and reading his Bible in the prison yard.
“The prisoners who did things for me out of fear now started doing them out of respect,” Fisher said.
Things began to change rapidly for Fisher. His nephew had a girlfriend who was incarcerated, and asked Fisher if he would like for her to find a woman prisoner to write to him.
“He asked me what kind of woman I was looking for and I told him one with a pulse would be nice,” quipped Fisher. He began corresponding with a female prisoner at Turley.
When Fisher was transferred to Riverside Prison in Tulsa, he became involved in Celebrate Recovery. It was then that he actually met his future wife when they both were bused to worship services at Tulsa, Calvary. Two days after he was released from prison, Fisher was married. The two former prisoners now have a 5-year-old daughter, Alana.
Shortly before he was released, Fisher began attending church services at Tulsa, Oakridge, where Dean Robison is pastor. The church had started a prison ministry, and Robison was “badged” to pick up prisoners and bring them to church.
“We were not tagged or roped off at Oakridge,” said Fisher. “The church came alongside us and nurtured us. The people didn’t treat us like prisoners.”
Since being released more than five years ago, Fisher has become a model citizen, working with the prison ministry at Oakridge and recently being ordained a deacon. He is also a part of the church’s “Posse,” which goes out and compels people to come to church, as well as the Disciples of Christ, which helps minister to those in need.
Looking back on his incarceration, Fisher said once he started letting the system work rather than working the system, things changed.
“If the loyalty you find among prisoners could be transferred to Christianity, we could change the world.”